The 2021 offseason has been by far one of the most dramatic in Nebraska football history, and by far the most controversial under the leadership of head coach Scott Frost.
Between the arrival of a new athletic director, the departure of several high-profile players from the program, an NCAA investigation and the fallout from a planning fiasco regarding the September 18 clash between Nebraska and Oklahoma , it was easy to see why Frost spent the week keeping the outside noise to come. of the season opener on Saturday against Illinois.
It appeared, at least from a neutral standpoint, that Frost’s side would be up for the challenge against an Illinois team that beat Nebraska a season ago at Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska came in as a road favorite on Saturday afternoon against a selected Illinois team last in the Big Ten by the media, and had a perfect opportunity to stoke the flames of the preseason with a win.
Expecting perfection in a college football game is impossible, especially in a game so early in the season. Even with Frost’s claims that the team were focused on the laser ahead of today’s game, it was unrealistic to expect the Huskers to shoot at full blast.
The Huskers were not expected to shoot any of them, but they were on Saturday. As a result, the Huskers gave up a 30-22 decision to the Fighting Illini which was frustrating on many levels.
The first and most egregious factor that ultimately contributed to Nebraska’s demise was an issue that was one of the calling cards of Frost’s tenure – a lack of attention to detail. Frost even noted that post-game, saying Saturday’s collapse “looked like the same movie again.”
The start of a game filled with errors for the Nebraska side was present in the first quarter. With just over four minutes to go in the first half, Illinois took off from its own 40-yard line with a score to come. Illinois senior punter Blake Hayes hit the ball well, with a boot that sank deep into Nebraska territory.
Instead of letting the punt go out of the end zone for a touchdown, Husker junior cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt chose to line up the punt both well inside his own line. 5 yards and over his shoulder – smashing several cardinal punt return sins in the treat.
In a last-ditch effort to save face, Taylor-Britt attempted to throw the ball. It was too late, however, and therefore the first points of the college football season has come in one of the most unique ways possible.
Taylor-Britt’s blunder sparked a litany of errors from the Huskers. Senior kicker Connor Culp, the Big Ten Kicker of the Year last season, missed two more points after missing none all last season. First-year kicker Daniel Cerni made several punts under 30 yards. Second-year center Cameron Jurgens, whose slamming issues are well documented, had a slam that passed the header of junior quarterback Adrian Martinez as the Huskers looked to erase a late deficit.
Nebraska had several penalties to kill the momentum, five for 67 overall, including a first-half interception that was wiped from the board due to a brutal passer penalty against junior linebacker Caleb Tannor.
Mistakes on the sidelines were perhaps more of a concern than mistakes on the pitch. Considering how much Frost hinted his staff and team were preparing for Saturday’s game, it was surprising to hear the Nebraska boss admit he had “misguided” what Illinois would execute defensively.
It showed in the Huskers’ final offensive stats. Martinez was largely ineffective, completing 16 of 32 passes for 232 yards with a touchdown. Other than a 75-yard touchdown by Martinez to reduce Illinois’ lead to 30-16 in the third quarter, Nebraska couldn’t do anything on the ground. The Nebraska backers combined for 40 yards on 19 carries, a disappointing performance given the uncertainty of the position heading into this season.
Even though Nebraska struggled to execute the ball, Frost dubiously leaned on the attacking rush late in Saturday’s game. Nebraska found themselves down 30-16 with 9:23 to go, requiring a quick score.
Instead, however, Nebraska inexplicably completed a 19-game, 76-yard run that burned at 6:42 on the clock. Husker’s running backs ran seven times during that streak, a tactic best used to try to melt playing time – not to conserve it. Plus, those seven carries totaled just 16 yards.
In a situation that demanded urgency, Nebraska shockingly showed an indictment against both the players and the coaching staff. Ending a practice with points is always ideal under any circumstance, but a heightened sense of urgency could have given the Huskers more time to attempt a late comeback.
Of course, that didn’t happen, and Nebraska dropped their third season opener of the Frost Regime.
The nature of Saturday’s contest makes it easy to overreact. It was essentially a one-day standalone game with little nationwide college football action against a conference opponent. It was the first Big Ten football game played in front of a large crowd since 2019. If this combination of circumstances and results happened in the last few seasons of Frost’s tenure, cooler heads could have won in encouraging virtues like patience.
In what is now Frost’s fourth season, these individuals are slowly dwindling in number.
The Nebraska season is not over after today. There are, after all, 11 more games to go and a high probability that the Huskers will look better trained than they did in today’s competition. However, based on past results, there is also a high probability that these errors will recur repeatedly.
The Huskers are now at a crossroads. Saturday’s loss may be a rallying point the Huskers revolve around their season, or the start of a free fall culminating in another offseason filled with change.
The off-season is officially over, the noise that accompanies it has disappeared. The name of the Huskers’ new game is react and rally, and they have to do it from what should be a decisive victory over Fordham.
Otherwise, things could go wrong and they could do it extremely quickly. It is now up to Frost and Company to turn another season-opener loss into the first record winning he led to his alma mater.